Have you ever thought of owning a family milk cow? Learn some of the pros and cons of having a dairy cow to see if it’s a fit for your homestead. From the time commitment to milk production, raw milk laws and more!
People occasionally ask why we don’t have a family milk cow on the homestead and are surprised we don’t have one since we love all things homesteading. I grew up drinking milk from the local dairy farmer and loved it so it seems only natural that I’d have a dairy cow on our homestead.
We didn’t have a dairy cow on our old homestead and we don’t have a family milk cow now. We love cow’s milk, cheese and butter so why don’t we have a cow? Well I’ll tell you all about it…
Dreaming of a Family Milk Cow
During our first year living on our old homestead, I wanted to do EVERYTHING homesteading. I wanted to put in a huge garden, raise all sorts of animals and preserve more of our food than I already was. Well, homesteading is a lot of hard work and can be financially challenging so I quickly realized we couldn’t do ALL the things, at least not in the first year.
In that first year or two, we did put in a huge garden, I got my beloved greenhouse to grow seedlings and extend our gardening season, and we got a flock of egg laying chickens. We planted more fruit trees, we built our own beehives and started beekeeping, and we had our first of several adventures in raising meat birds.
It seemed only natural that we would have a family milk cow on the homestead since we enjoyed lots of dairy products made from cow’s milk.
Learning the Pros and Cons of a Family Milk Cow
My husband, who is not as gung-ho about homesteading as myself and the kiddos, was not too keen on the idea of having a family milk cow even though I would be the one primarily responsible.
I set out to research the pros and cons of raising a dairy cow to really make a case for why we needed to have a family milk cow on the homestead. Well, that plan backfired!
Reading more about the ins and outs of keeping a family milk cow really opened my eyes to the amount of work it would entail having a family milk cow.
What I realized is that having a family milk cow is WAY more time intensive than I realized. At the time, my daughter was a toddler and both my husband and I worked jobs outside the homestead.
We managed our work schedules so that we worked opposite schedules and one of us was always able to be at home with our daughter. We didn’t have any family nearby to help us and we didn’t use a daycare.
We were stretched thin. Adding in an animal that needed to be milked twice a day (only once if using a calf share) was more work that what I could manage at the time. It was a sad realization then and it also makes me sad to think about it now because I really did so badly want a family milk cow!
Another reason we did not get a family milk cow is that we live in the gorgeous state of Montana and love to get out and adventure with hiking, camping, kayaking, and going on road trips to explore ghost towns and historical sites in the west.
We could put out extra feeders and waterers for our chickens and be gone for several days at a time without needing someone to take care of them.
With a family milk cow, we would have needed to find someone to come out to our rural property to milk the cow everyday. We just didn’t know anyone who could do this at the time.
Montana Raw Milk Sales Regulations
Another big factor was discovering that the average dairy cow produces 3-4 gallons of milk per day. Wow, that’s A LOT of milk!!
While I was making butter and cheese at our old homestead and we enjoy drinking milk, our family was probably using only one to two gallons of milk a week at the time.
That would leave a lot of leftover milk. I’m sure you’re thinking, well why wouldn’t you sell it?! That makes sense, right?
When we lived on our old homestead, raw milk was still considered “illegal” to sell in Montana. It was done, but it was sold under the radar and people had to be extremely careful about it. It wasn’t an easy process and not a project I wanted to step into at the time with all the other roles I was struggling to manage in my life.
As of 2021, raw milk is now legal in Montana with very specific regulations in place for small producers. This has made it much easier for small farms to sell raw milk and it no longer feels like you’re buying and selling on the black market!
Local Organic Dairy Options
Then we moved to our current homestead a few years ago. There’s an organic dairy in our valley and they sell their products as minimally processed as will allow per regulations. They have a little farm store that sells their delicious milk, cheese, and butter as well as meats they raise on their farm.
When we’re in the area of their farm, my kids and I always like to call out to the dairy cows in their pasture “Hello Milk, Cheese, and Butter!”
For now we are content buying our dairy products from the local organic farm since we know the farmer and can see the cows anytime we want just by driving past their pasture. We even had a chance to go on a kid’s farm tour of the organic dairy a couple years ago to see first hand where our milk, butter and cheese come from.
There’s still a small part of me that loves the idea of having a family milk cow but now is not the time for us. Last year I was dealing with a lot of health issues and struggled to manage everything on the homestead (I confess that the weeds got the best of our garden by the end of the season as I recovered from surgery!)
Maybe some day when my kids are older and can be responsible for a chore like milking twice a day we’ll revisit the idea of having a family milk cow. But for now, we’ll happily partake of dairy from the local organic farm.
Do you dream of one day having a family milk cow? Or maybe you have one and have advice to share on how to manage the time intensive care of a family milk cow?